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Bayern Rundfahrt
Photo ©: Schaaf

First Edition Cycling News for February 5, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner & John Stevenson

An interview with Mark McCormack: Uncorking another season

Mark McCormack
Photo ©: Joe Gross
Click for larger image

After 14 years as a pro, Mark McCormack has established himself as one of America's most experienced racers still on the circuit today. Another season at Colavita-Sutter Home promises a host of opportunities, including a shot at the national criterium championship plus a run in the all-American USPRO race - challenges the veteran team player is looking forward to. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski caught up with McCormack as he begins another season.

Colavita-Sutter Home's team leader enters another year on the North American scene - his 14th year as a professional. Mark got his start racing with older brother Frank, who he followed to the Saturn juggernaut in 1996. The limelight was held mainly by Frank until 2003, when the younger McCormack won both the USPRO road championship and the Pro Cycling Tour overall. Since then the 35-year-old has enjoyed a momentum that has helped him win numerous races in his second decade as a professional. Like many others, McCormack was left without a team after Saturn ended their involvement in the sport - however, a new east coast team started by John Profaci, Colavita-Sutter Home, offered him an opportunity to assume the role of team leader and continue to explore his later-career success.

It wasn't easy to be a North American pro team in 2005, battling for the already limited media exposure with a juggernaut like the 'green machine' [Health Net] about. But Colavita-Sutter Home, led by McCormack, quietly racked up some impressive wins - including the Tour of Connecticut overall, the $100,000 Bank of America Criterium and stages of the Tour de Toona. As with all North American teams, change is constant. Near the close of the 2005 season, it looked as though Colavita-Sutter Home's rider line-up might remain intact for another season, yet the team ended up losing two key riders in sprinter Juan Jose Haedo and overall rider Aaron Olson. "Both John and Frank wanted to keep Aaron and J.J. around, but both found other opportunities to pursue. We could have had a repeat roster going into 2006, which isn't very common if you look at most teams," says McCormack. But he's used to the turnover of the U.S. scene, and is confident that new signings will fill the voids.

"Obviously Juan Jose was going to be a huge hole to fill," McCormack admits. "Fortunately, my brother Frank found Viktor Rapinski who was available to come back to America after a year with Phonak. Both [Frank] and I raced with Viktor at Saturn in 2002 and again in 2003. We've both seen him in action personally. He's hungry to get back into some racing where he can excel. His style of racing should suit our team really well in terms of his abilities - knowing that he can sprint really fast, climb well and time trial well too. Hopefully, he'll fill what we would have lost without Juan Jose."

Click here for the full interview.

2006 last season for Axel Merckx?

Axel Merckx after winning stage five of the 2005 Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image
Axel Merckx might quit professional racing at the end of the 2006 season. In an interview with Belgian HNB, the son of legendary cycling icon Eddy said he missed his family too much to be away from home as much as he has been as a cyclist.

For what might be his last season in the peloton, Merckx made the move to the Swiss Phonak team where he will work together with close friend and team director John Lelangue. But after last year's Tour de France, his relationship with Davitamon turned sour, although he denied that this was one of the reasons that made him leave.

"That's not the reason I left," the 33 year-old said. "I'm not going to deny I wasn't happy when the team chased me while I was so close to a stage win in the Tour de France last year. But the guys who were ordered to do so weren't happy about it either. We are friends, you simply don't chase each other then. But they had to. Who made them? The team management. They put all their hopes on McEwen. But after he got disqualified there was no way he'd win the green jersey. And my chances for taking a win were a lot bigger than McEwen's at that point. Afterwards they claimed I had had my chance; but my chances were blown."

Merckx added that the change of management of his former squad - from sponsor Lotto to Davitamon - had a considerable impact on the way the team was conducted. "I have known beautiful moments with the Lotto team," he said. "They allowed me to stay at home from the Belgian championships for the birth of my daughter, that was a cool gesture. But since Lotto turned into Davitamon, things aren't the same. Before, the man in charge of sporting decisions was Marc Sergeant. Now Marc Coucke holds a strict reign. Not a bad word about mister Coucke, but he has never been a professional cyclist."

Now with Phonak, there's very little risk of problems: the ties between John Lelangue and the Merckx family go back a long time. "With Phonak, I have no pressure, I don't have to reach certain set goals," Merckx explained, nevertheless pointing out that he was going to give his very best in 2006. "I do have my own goals: the Wallonian Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the start of the Giro, the Tour. Those are my races, but they didn't attach any results to it. We hope I will have my best season ever."

It's very different from his previous team. "With Davitamon, everything was a must. The ambition grew as the results came in. In Qatar they wanted us to win, and while I'm not calling that race pure training, it's not Paris-Nice! And when we were leading the ProTour ranking after the classics, they wanted us to keep hold of that place while it was normal that we fell back in the rankings."

But the personal relationship Merckx has with Phonak team manager John Lelangue was the decisive factor for the change. "Phonak's budget is about the same as Lotto has available. The wages are less though. I'm not saying I'm earning less, but that's not why I'm doing it," Merckx said. "John and I have been friends since our youth. For years we have been saying we'd work together. It was now or never, because I might be stopping at the end of the year. I have a contract for another season, but Phonak is stopping their sponsoring. And more important: I miss my children. I don't know if the will to race is big enough to make up for those feelings. If I can keep it in check, I might just race another year."

Asked, what were his plans beyond his days as a rider, Merckx said, "I'm not going to go into my father's business, no. My father would love it; but if you do something against your own will, you can't do a good job and he understands that. Maybe I'll stay in cycling - not as a full-time team director but for about fifty days per year, for the smaller stage races or so. And do some PR work on the side. I speak several languages, and I can explain things quite well, so I like that thought. I'll keep the apartment in Monaco as a pied-à-terre in Europe, because we'll definitely move to Canada. We've built a house there, close to a lake with a nature reserve behind us. Magnificent. I want my children to go to school there. My future is in Canada."

While Axel Merckx knew he would never be able to get anywhere near the results of his father Eddy, he was satisfied with what he'd achieved since he turned pro with Team Telekom in 1994. "I've always given a 100 percent, you can't regret anything then," he said. "My results? You can't compare me to my father. But I'm satisfied. It's not a disgrace being beaten by someone stronger. Maybe I should have been more selfish some times; but that's not my nature. I've always raced with the team's best interest in mind."

Courtesy of Sabine Sunderland

Rolling again: Tornado Tom

After taking four out of five stages at the Tour of Qatar, as well as the overall victory, even Tom Boonen thinks his success is getting out of control. "Maybe this is a bit too much of a good thing," Boonen told Paul de Keyser in an interview with VUM newspapers, "but it's a wonderful way to finish this Tour of Qatar. It's a dream start my season in this way. Without the hiccup [gear malfunction] I would have taken all five stages; and yes, that would have been too much."

The world champion admitted that once the first victory was achieved, he couldn't stop himself or his team from going out for more, especially since the other teams had no choice but take their responsibilities if they wanted a stage victory at all. "It was training for me, hard training," he said after the final stage. "No pressure? Yeh, that's often said beforehand. But when you stand at the start line, things always chance. We came to Qatar to win once; and then things just rolled, without us having to take charge over and over. Milram and Phonak raced hard in this last stage - they had to if they wanted to take one win. We didn't have to do anything until the finale."

With this much success right in the beginning of the season, Boonen knows that he has to keep his focus. "Now it's a matter of not getting ahead of myself," he said. "Not putting on too much pressure: rest enough, train enough. Doing the things I'm good at really: reach my peak and stay relaxed. Of course I'm thinking of Milan-San Remo. By then I have to be another ten percent better. And by the time the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is on, I have to add another ten percent. But first I'm riding the Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne."

But even before all that, there's the Spanish stage race Ruta del Sol, February 12-16, where Boonen will get to test his legs against those of Alessandro Petacchi. "The Ruta del Sol? I'm not sprinting there!" Boonen laughed, but that's what is said beforehand...

Courtesy of Sabine Sunderland

More Bessèges bad luck for Traksel

Bobbie Traksel (Unibet.com) was involved in an accident in the third stage of the French stage race Etoile de Bessèges on Friday, February 3, the same race where he suffered a serious crash in 2005. This time, the Dutchman hit a car head-on while on a descent. But in this crash he was "lucky": apart from a severe wound on his right leg and a concussion, Traksel 'only' broke two toes.

"I was really lucky," he said in the hospital of Alès, where he had to spend the night for observation. "It could have been much worse. At first I thought my ankle was broken." In 2005, Traksel was out of competition for quite a while after his crash in Bessèges.

Armstrong and Crow separate

Five months after announcing their engagement, Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow have made known their separation in a common statement printed in Friday's edition of People Magazine. The couple, who had been together for over two years and planned to wed later this year in Texas, have decided to split for reasons they did not reveal. "After much thought and consideration we have made a very tough decision to split up," the statement read.

"We both have a deep love and respect for each other and we ask that everyone respect our privacy during this very difficult time," it continued. Rumours about a possible separation of the famous couple had been in the air for several months, but the seven times Tour de France winner and country singer Crow had always denied them - until now.

ComNet-Senges becomes Regiostrom-Senges

German Continental team ComNet-Senges has changed title sponsor and name to become Regiostrom-Senges in 2006. The squad also changed jersey colours from red/white to green/white, and signed eight new riders to its roster of 15.

"We are more unpredictable than ever," said team manager Markus Ganser about his new team. "We can win in all types of races, and want to carry on improving ourselves. Ganser is especially happy about having signed Jens Mouris and Maint Berkenbosch, both Dutch, as well as Australian Joshua Collingwood, of whom he said that "they will hopefully really get it on."

Team Regiostrom-Senges lines up the following riders in 2006: Yannick Maus, René Lacroix, Matthias Bertling, Laurent Didier (Lux), Maint Berkenbosch (Ned), Jens Mouris (Ned), Joshua Kane Collingwood (Aus), Elnathan Heizmann, Konstantin Schubert, Daniel Babic, Karsten Vogel, René Schild, Markus Eichler, Wolfram Wiese and Viktor Renäng (Swe).

Cascade Classic registration open

The Mt. Bachelor Sport Education Foundation has announced that registration is now open for the 27th Annual Bend Memorial Clinic Cascade Cycling Classic. Scheduled for July 12-16, 2006, the Cascade Classic, part of the NRC, includes the following categories: Elite Men Pro/1/2, Elite Women Pro/1/2/3, Men Category 3 and Masters 35+/45+.

Participants can register at sportsbaseonline.com . Early registration is recommended as field limits will be met quickly. For more information please e-mail info@cascade-classic.org.

2008 MTB Marathon World Championships in Tyrol

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has appointed Villabassa/Alta Pusteria in South Tyrol, Italy, as the venue for the 2008 Marathon World Championships. On the occasion of the Cross Country World Championships in Zeddam, Netherlands, last January, the organizing committee of the World Cup event "Südtirol Dolomiti Superbike" was chosen from the other candidates like Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy, Kirchzarten, Germany, and Madrid, Spain.

The course and the landscape of the Dolomites mountains of the Dolomiti Superbike attracts the largest number of competitors in Italy, with around 3,000 participants each year. This year's race, which features a new course measured by GPS, will be held on July 9, 2006.

More information can be found at www.dolomitisuperbike.com

Gran Canaria Open on its way

While Northern Europe shivers with temperatures below zero, Europe's mountain bikers are planning to warmer regions: to Gran Canaria for instance, where the preparations for the Gran Canaria Open, the island's second mountain bike marathon on March 18, are up to speed.

Race organiser Petra Wonisch says she already has five times as many entries as this time last year and is thrilled about the positive response from around the world. "Norwegian and Swedish pro teams have entered the race as well as riders from Belgium, France, the UK and even the United States," Wonisch said. "That people are travelling so far to participate in our event makes us proud. But we also have a lot of mountain bikers from Bavaria and Austria who want to capitalise on the early opener of their local marathon series."

Courses for the event are reportedly tough but doable. Trek rider says she likes the route because it's "technically very demanding," while course designer and MTB guide Philipp Foltz (Atlantic Cycling) describes the 38km short course as "easy to accomplish."

The long course will be harder though. "Those who take the turn for the big round will face a 15-minute hike a bike section before they get to a tough uphill," says Foltz. "The technical single trail eventually passes into a gravel road which leads to the highest point at 1300 metres. The descent is a great mix of challenging trails, tar sections, gravel roads and sharp counter slopes on which the race will most likely be decided. To win the Gran Canaria Open you have to be a complete rider who has enough reserves to master the many counter slopes in the end."

For more information see www.canary-bike.com.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2006)